Bravery. It’s a word very seldom used at work. Most often, we imagine a lycra-clad hero swooping into save the day; not a suit-clad associate flying in to disrupt an industry. In fact, bravery is rarely attributed to career progression at all.
Instead, we lean on words like productivity, efficiency, and diligence. These words show up at project reviews, get reflected in KPIs, and are rewarded at promotion time. But bravery matters. It trumps traditional workplace attributes by creating a new mode of operation; one that uncovers exciting opportunities and takes them for a spin.
Before we get stuck into how to be brave, let’s focus on why it matters. Successful entrepreneurs exude this quality, repeatedly. For example, take Tony Hseih, Sara Blakely, Tory Burch, and Richard Branson—you know these names because these innovators have made a habit of being courageous: not only to see innovative opportunities in the first place—but to have the tenacity to see their “crazy” ideas through.
So, let’s all agree that starting today, we’ll wear our capes to work more often.
1. Get Ludicrous
If you focus on making an idea good, feasible, or effective, you’re bound to fall flat as you’ll remain thinking within existing business-as-usual paradigms. Instead, focus on making it utterly preposterous, and by default, impossible to ignore. When you strive to make your brainstorming session downright ridiculous, you break free of your normal confines and allow yourself to see possibilities in a whole new light.
This gets you to ideas that are truly bold, differentiated, and interesting. The really crazy parts will get ironed out eventually, but the initial goal must be for something truly over the top. Try asking yourself seemingly silly questions, and be sure to have a little fun with it.
- What will it take to sell your product for triple the price? Or half the price?
- What would happen if Marilyn Manson took over? Or Willy Wonka?
- What if we only sold our product at cinemas? Or to kindergarten teachers?
- What would it take to make the front cover of Vogue? Or The New York Times?
2. Book Ludicrous Time
Contrary to popular belief (and the great myth of the light bulb moment), great ideas take work. It’s much easier to brainstorm when you set aside dedicated time to do so. In the same way you find space for project reviews, expense reports, and meetings, actively book time in your planner. Even the act of blocking your calendar with such an unusual subject is a brave act and will set you on a courageous trajectory.
3. Spell Out the Worst-Case Scenario
Often, we dramatize things to their most extreme and negative outcome. It’s a destructive and paralyzing pattern that’s worth kicking to the curb—pronto! In reality, most often the worst-case scenario is simply that something won’t work. Especially if you find smart ways to test your assumptions as you go. So no, you won’t get fired. You won’t end up flipping burgers. You won’t be incarcerated.
4. Take Small Bites
Big change doesn’t have to happen in one go. It can (and should) happen in small, measured, and iterative steps. Break your task down into small chunks and find ways to bolster your bravery and do things differently within each step. This will also help with your worst-case scenario planning. You could paint a pretty dire picture trying to build a new car in one fell swoop, but if you break it down into small parts, the whole problem’s manageable. After all, if you get one part wrong, it’s not that bad.
5. Attack Your Idea
This is the ultimate way to pressure test your thinking—and you’ll need bravery to do it. Stick your early thoughts up on the wall (or in a shared drive), and with the help of colleagues, find as many holes in it as possible. You can make this as entertaining as you like—imagine turning your thoughts into a piñata or a dart board with your idea as the bullseye, and then, rip it to shreds! Once you can see all the weaknesses, spend time addressing them, one by one. You’ll end up with a robust, bulletproof concept ready to catapult forward.
6. Get Clear on the Mission
When you’re trying to do something genuinely different, times will get tough. You’ll want to give up, pack it in, and take the easy route. However, when you focus on a big, exciting and game-changing vision of what you’re trying to achieve, it will arm you with the extra steam you need to overcome roadblocks.
Get inspired from some of the big guys: IKEA’s vision is all about democracy “to create a better everyday life for the many people,” while Zappos wants to “provide the best customer service possible,” and Virgin aims to “embrace the human spirit and let it fly.” These mission statements are a powerful touchstone for anyone trying to summon the courage to do things in a new way. Commit to why it matters and suddenly, obstacles will seem small and surmountable.
7. Lay Your Bets
Once you have a bold, new approach you want to try, it’s up to you to keep it alive and supported. Invite some colleagues to make some predictions around what’ll happen. This way, you focus on what you stand to gain from trying something different, not just the new method itself. Ask people (including yourself) to write down what they expect to change; for example, you might stand to gain new customer channels, reduced price sensitivity, and greater brand flexibility. When people place bets, they become vested in the outcome and commit to making it happen, rather than sitting back with their hands folded; waiting for the idea to tank. So, start your betting ring! (With rewards, naturally.)
8. Put Your Ego Aside
It takes huge amounts of courage to be OK with failure. You need to recognize that if one thing doesn’t work out, it’s not a reflection of your life’s work, but a reflection of one idea, in one particular context. Remember the wise words of Bo Bennett when you start taking things personally: “An objection is not a rejection; it is simply a request for more information.” Every time you hear no, gather the information needed to turn it into a yes.
9. Host an Idea Wake
When your innovations don’t work out as planned, don’t sweep them under the carpet. Instead, celebrate them with a wake. Analyze what went wrong, what you loved about the concept, what you learned from its demise, and what you’ll do differently moving forward. Invite some people and watch how easy it becomes to talk about failure. Bonus points for creating a “wall of broken ideas” that actively displays your failed and valiant attempts.
10. Commit Brave Deeds
Bravery can show up in small and unexpected ways. Talk to your manager about encouraging everyone on the team to commit to a “brave deed” for that week, or if you’re all beginners, that month. It doesn’t matter how small, it just matters that this becomes a celebrated habit. Make sure everyone shares their choice and their progress.
Like most things, the more you practice being courageous, the easier it will come. These tips can help you embed bravery into your everyday routine. Remember, no great idea, feat of human achievement, or noteworthy accomplishment happened without it. When we have the audacity to be brave, things move. We make stuff happen, we change the mold, and we get rewarded for it.
Photo of brave man courtesy of Shutterstock.